March 31, 2004

Online Presence: Considering Blogs Instead of Web Sites

I posted this today in response to a sole practitioner's query on the ABA Lawtech list. He wanted to develop a simple web presence with the ability to expand in the future. He needed easy-to-use software as he preferred to do it himself, and did not have significant time to invest. To him, the cost of the software is less significant than his time in implementing it.

I just had a number of solo and small firm attorneys ask me virtually identical questions at Techshow, so I thought I'd reproduce my response here:

If you don't have any web presence yet, and can devote several hours per week to providing content updates (as opposed to spending a lot of it on web formatting for the initial design and on each content update), then seriously consider a blog format.

Check out the TypePad service. It's based on the popular Movable Type technology, without all of the hardcore techie hassles of most other blog systems. The blog design tools are all web-based, so you make the layout and design selections through your browser (e.g., choosing a 2-column vs. 3-column design, which content section goes where, colors, etc.). I recommended TypePad to a colleague when it was first released. He signed up one evening and showed me his finished blog the next day -- it was that easy. Implementation time is very little with TypePad in comparison to many other services and tools.

TypePad is a hosted service that has several service levels so you choose the amount of needed features you need for the price. If you have a registered domain name for your firm, I'm pretty sure that TypePad will let you point it towards their service, so you have a professional-looking URL. It's also chock-full of blogging features.

Lastly, the main reasons I mention a blog is that it really amounts to guerrilla marketing for solos for the following reasons:

1) Search Engines Love Blogs:

Search engines like Google give much higher results ranking to sites having (a) frequently updated content and (b) lots of inbound links from other web sites and blogs. Blogs meet these criteria big time. Bloggers love linking to other bloggers if they find the content compelling.

For instance, while your mileage may vary, a mere 5 weeks after releasing my blog, a search for Jeff Beard placed me at the number one hit in Google (I was already in the top 10 results within the first 2 - 3 weeks). Metatags don't matter much for some engines like Google, so I haven't even gotten around to adding any yet (although I should probably add them for other engines that may still use this method). But since most of the world loves and uses Google, it's not at the top of my blog To Do list.

2) Instant "Expertability":

If you feel comfortable posting new content several times a week about new developments in particular areas and topics (i.e., "The Niche"), you are perceived as being an expert on the subject almost overnight -- as long as your posts are professional and are reasonably reliable. Also, don't discount the social engineering factor of blogs. That is where the real presence power and results derive from. Blogs leverage what you know with who you know (or conversely, who knows you from your blog).

3) Super Easy Updating:

Posting content to a blog is very similar to being able to send an HTML-formatted e-mail. You fill out a few fields of text (subject, category, body, etc.), add in some light HTML formatting (web links, bold, underline, etc.), and click on Submit. Boom -- you're done for the day. The text gets automatically published to your blog in the exact look and feel you've pre-selected when you set up the blog.

4) RSS News Feeds = Extended Reach = Larger Audience = More Hits

I won't go into a long discussion of Really Simple Syndication other than to say it allows people to read more of your content in less time and with less effort than manually visiting each site on their daily or weekly mental list. It's a convenience and time management feature that appeals to an initially small percentage of the population, but which is growing at a good rate. Consider this: As people's list of sites in their aggregator is growing quickly, you want to be one of the first ones added so you're near the top of the heap. Early adopters have first mover advantages here.

5) Built-in Search and Content Management Features

Blogs are database-driven web sites. In other words, all of the textual posts on this blog are stored in a database on my web server. The blogging software automatically merges the appropriate text from the database with all of the web-formatted templates created when the blog was initially set up. Having a database on the back end also makes it very easy to search my prior content and categorize posts into one or multiple categories. These features are built into the better blogging systems. Likewise, my blog is set to display the last ten posts on the home page. When I post the eleventh item, the home page is automatically republished to remove the oldest prior post and add it to an archive page that is likewise categorized and fully searchable. Thus I don't have to lift a finger to move content in this fashion, and the cycle repeats for each post I make thereafter. The amazing thing is that this effective content management system is already included as a feature with some blog systems. I've seen law firms spend thousands of dollars on obtaining third party content management systems for their existing web sites. If you're starting from scratch on your web site, you just might want to take this into account.

Now with that said, blogging is not for everyone. If you just want a low-maintenance static or "brochure" web site (which in my humble opinion is of decreasing and limited value these days), and can't devote the time to post new things, then no one is going to visit your blog after the dust settles on it. Of course, don't expect people to return to your static web site either -- which is why I equate it to a simple phone book entry for the web, i.e., a placeholder. Content is King.

Likewise, if your public postings, comments, analysis, etc. can come back to bite you, then extra care is warranted. In a solo situation, you typically have much less of these concerns than if you were in a large firm or corporation -- but they could still exist in some situations.

If you'd like to see a good example of a small firm site leveraged by blogging, check out Erik Heels' site at http://www.lawlawlaw.com.

[Updated 04.01.04 to add section five on search and content management features.]

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (8)

March 29, 2004

Microsoft Metadata Chuckle of the Day

This one was just too good to pass up. John Lederer, a fellow Wisconsinite and friend of mine on the ABA LAWTECH list, posted this gem last evening:

"Microsoft has produced a sales document explaining why MS Office is better than OpenOffice.

OpenOffice.pdf
[Note: Link text shortened from John's original post for formatting reasons.]

Among other reasons Microsoft argues are:

'Seamless Information Exchange There are over 300 million users of Office worldwide who can seamlessly exchange documents without concerns for loss of data or formatting errors.'

And

'Office includes Publisher, which enables small businesses to create professional sales and marketing documents, Web sites and email campaigns in-house, without the need for expensive outsourcing.'

The marketing document? Oh, that is a pdf produced on a Macintosh using QuarkExpress as can be seen by looking at the last few lines of the pdf code. After all it needs to be seamlessly exchanged and look professional."

Indeed, the PDF above contains the following text near the very end, when viewed with even the simplest text editor:

/CreationDate (D:20030911160553)
/Producer (Acrobat Distiller 4.05 for Macintosh)
/Author (Gravity)
/Title (competitive OpenOffice.qxd)
/Creator (QuarkXPress\(tm\) 4.11)
/ModDate (D:20030911160603-07'00')

Yep, that's why MS Office is better than OpenOffice all right.

[Also posted to illustrate another hard lesson in the dangers of metadata. If this content is accurate, not only was the document not created using MS Office, but it wasn't even done on Windows.]

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 28, 2004

TECHSHOW Highlights

It's been a busy couple of days at TECHSHOW. There have been many exceptional presentations, and I've met some very interesting people along with catching up with friends and colleagues. While it was impossible to attend all concurrent sessions, here are some highlights from this year's show that I attended:

First off, electronic discovery is a hot, hot, hot topic (no surprise, really, given how much electronic data we keep pumping out). Mike Arkfeld and the Hon. James Francis IV gave a very informative session analyzing and summarizing the various Zubulake decisions. It was particularly useful in that they color-coded all of the various cost-shifting factors to compare against other decisions. Likewise, they provided savvy strategies that litigators could take away and use from these decisions.

The Thursday keynote featured Lou Andreozzi from Lexis and Mike Wilens from Thomson/West. These leaders gave their visions of the future for legal technology. Things like instant messaging and blogging are definitely on the radar screen. I found it particularly telling when more than half the of grand ballroom (standing room-only) crowd raised their hand when Mike asked who was reading blogs. The response was so large and emphatic that several of us bloggers were quite pleasantly surprised. As Mike mentioned, these new modalities of communication are revolutionizing how we work. It's also a great example of how the internet can used by savvy people to not only level the playing field, but to take it a step further in providing guerrilla marketing and client service.

Afterward, I had an opportunity to discuss with them the potential of RSS feeds for the delivery of news and case alerts, etc. Suffice it to say that things are looking promising in this area.

Likewise, wireless has arrived in a big way. Many attendees were toting wireless laptops. Given the relative insecurity of wireless networking, there were many sessions discussing the risks, benefits, and they best ways to harden your systems against intrusion. A live interactive session featuring Jeff Flax and Joe Kashi made it abundantly clear there were a number of attendees running wireless notebooks that were open and unprotected. If you're going wireless, don't even think about it unless you're practicing safe hex and implementing wireless networking best practices.

Another great session was "Performance Metrics and ROI Strategies", presented by John Alber, David Bilinsky, and Michael Kraft. They gave us a number of practical strategies for measuring both the hard and soft issues of technology projects. This is most definitely an area in which many law firms are weak. For instance, how many of you are performing meaningful "debriefings" once a technology project has been completed? If you don't identify what worked and what didn't, then how can you avoid making similar mistakes (or repeating successes) all over again?

New this year was the TECHSHOW Training Institute, where leading vendors showcased their products in a very how-to manner. We got to see, step-by-step, how you can effectively use such programs as CaseMap/TimeMap, Time Matters/Billing Matters, Summation, Amicus Attorney, and a session on Demystifying Electronic Discovery by Applied Discovery.

Perhaps the brightest highlight of the show was Craig Ball's PowerPoint on, naturally, PowerPoint. If you've never seen him present, you are definitely missing out. Craig is one of the true masters of Powerpoint, putting many of us humble presenters to shame. Craig entertainingly shared some of his most effective tips, and more importantly, showed us how to do it, step by step.

This year the TECHSHOW board is working very hard to collect the final version of all the PowerPoint presentations to post on the web site. This is in addition to the CD materials, so watch the site as materials are being added.

Lastly, TECHSHOW is just not complete without going to the fun dinners. The Technologists dinner just keeps getting better every year. It was likewise a blast to meet with fellow blawgers -- this is truly a group of creative and forward-thinking professionals on the cutting edge.

Overall, it's been a great conference, with many exhibitors to boot. The attendance was also definitely up this year. I've already gotten so much more out of it than I put into it (and speaking as a presenter, I believe that's saying something). In speaking with many attendees, it's clear that a significant portion of the legal profession understands the role and impact that the proper application of technology can have on one's practice. And that's very encouraging indeed.

Topic(s):   Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (1)

March 24, 2004

Off to TECHSHOW!

I'm off to the ABA TECHSHOW this week, and am looking forward to it. You can always tell it's TECHSHOW week by the electricity in the air. I get supercharged because it's like a retreat for me -- a chance to get away for a few days, take a deep breath, and look around. It's a great way to track new developments and legal tech trends, and to think seriously and creatively about new approaches. Perhaps most of all, I enjoy meeting and collaborating with some truly savvy and impressive people, who are also some of the nicest folks I've ever met. One can't help but come back with a host of useful ideas and contacts, and a fresh outlook to boot.

On that note, I'll be speaking on Remote Access issues on Thursday with Bill Coplin of NetTech Inc. and Managing Clients' Technology Expectations on Friday with Adriana Linares, who recently took the plunge and formed LawTech Partners, Inc. I'm also particularly looking forward to seeing everyone at the blogger dinner tonight as well as at the Consultants & Technologists Dinner (a/k/a "The Dinner") on Thursday. If you're going to TECHSHOW, look me up this week.

Topic(s):   Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 23, 2004

Is Your Network A Legal Minefield?

Art Jahnke at CIO.com has this to say about peer-to-peer file sharing performed over company networks:

"A survey released two weeks ago by security provider Blue Coat Systems found that many employees continue to download files at work, using applications like Gnutella and Kazaa. According to Blue Coat, 38.6 percent of 300 respondents said they do their file sharing on company networks. The survey also revealed that 60 percent of respondents were unconcerned about the possibility that the Recording Industry Association of America could sue their employers.

Is that scary? Whose responsibility is it to keep a companyís networks from becoming a legal minefield? Isnít that your job? What is your company doing to keep its networks clean? Nothing?"

There are several useful comments posted by readers at the end of the online article, which discuss the importance of having a well-drafted policy and utilizing the right tools to establish the audit trail back to the culprits, thus making the policy enforceable.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management  |  Privacy & Security
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 19, 2004

Must-See Legal PDA Resources

Have you visited JurisPDA lately? I was corresponding with Grace Lee (Electronic Services Librarian extraordinaire of the New York Law School, which operates the site) regarding web-based news aggregrators and she mentioned the site. JurisPDA is pretty much a one-stop shop for PDA-toting legal professionals. Particularly useful are the PDA software links which are aptly categorized for quick reference. Highly recommended Palm programs are marked with an asterisk, and are many of the programs that I've often recommended in my legal PDA presentations. There are also many tips and suggestions for using your Palm-based PDA.

Under Legal Content, you'll find links to a number of statutes, cases, procedural rules, governmental content and more. Particularly useful is the link to LawPDA, which sells updated resources such as the 2004 versions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Rules of Evidence (updated through December 31, 2003, which is pretty darn current). LawPDA publishes many of these in the popular PalmReader, iSilo, and Microsoft Reader formats.

Thus if you're a legal professional and really want to get the most and best use of your PDA, or just want to pick up a new trick or two, I highly recommend checking them out.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 16, 2004

But Does Your Sports Car Have a Cheat Code?

The BMW M3 is apparently the first car with a cheat code, sometimes referred to as an easter egg. Given the car's completely electronic transmission, it was only a matter of time until other aspects of computer programming crept into automobiles. Basically, the M3's normal operation doesn't allow neutral drops, to the disappointment of some of its drivers. Popular Science lists the undocumented details to enable the rocket launch. (And kids, don't try this at home!)

Of course, the next question is whether the M3 also comes with its own "black box", which would verify what one was doing right before that sudden "accident". Head on over to Vetronix for information regarding their $2,500 Crash Data Retrieval System, which can recover the logs from a number of these automotive black boxes.

[Thanks to Gizmodo for the link.]

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 15, 2004

Erasable, Editable, Recallable E-mail?

E-mail is a big problem for businesses and individuals alike. Say something in person without a recording device, and the hard evidence evaporates almost immediately, devolving into the wiggle room arena of "he said, she said".

Not so with most e-mail messages -- which can linger like bad fish left in someone else's kitchen. The sender suspects it's still out there, becoming more pungent with age, but generally can't do much to reach out and toss the spoiled thing away before it's discovered and used against him or her. Thus a number of developers have attempted to re-engineer the e-mail process into something often touted as completely controllable by the sender. Frankly, the false sense of security generated by these attempted solutions scares the dickens out of me. Let me tell you why:

But first, a couple of much-needed disclaimers:

1) This article intentionally begs the question of the propriety of destroying e-mails and/or attachments after they were sent. It could go either way depending on the situation. At one end of the spectrum, a company that has crafted a legal and appropriate document retention policy may also have a legitimate need to ensure their e-mails comply with that policy (although the Sarbanes-Oxley Act has potential impact here). At the other extreme, one who has engaged in inappropriate or illegal acts could abuse these enhanced e-mail services by attempting to destroy key evidence after the fact. As with most technology, good or bad results depend heavily upon how it was ultimately used.

2) Therefore, this article is intended to discuss the technical advantages, disadvantages, and even potential fallacies of "controllable" e-mail systems. It is not meant in any way to denigrate these developers, their products, services or attempts to provide more secure e-mail systems. Everyone is free to reach their own conclusion on this subject.

I came across this post today at Mike Arkfeld's excellent Electronic Discovery and Evidence blog. It describes BigString.com's new e-mail service that purports to "recall, modify or set an expiration date for emails that have already been sent. These emails can be erased, modified or expired even if the recipient has read them."

Having researched and written on the subject of "controllable", "recallable", and "disappearing" e-mail over three years ago for the National Law Journal, this naturally piqued my interest. The underlying idea is nothing new. Back in 2000, several companies experimented with new e-mail services that gave the sender a much higher level of control over dissemination, viewability, and expiration of their e-mails. Some developers encrypted e-mails with keys the sender controlled. In essence, a recipient's e-mail service or program could only decrypt a message if the key hadn't been revoked or otherwise expired by the sender. Other services took a different approach by "play[ing] host to an entire self-destructing mail system. Users must go to their sites to send and receive encrypted mail." At the very end of my NLJ article, I provided links to a few services who took this latter approach as examples.

Once the decryption key became unavailable, the theory was that the e-mail became an unintelligible, encrypted mess of alphanumeric soup. That was supposed to give the sender a huge sense of relief and protection that it had, for all practical purposes, "disappeared".

Except that the e-mail didn't disappear, did it? In some cases, the recipient still had a record that they received an e-mail from Sender X, but the contents were scrambled. Even such a limited e-mail could be used to establish that communication had in fact occurred between two parties who may have otherwise denied it. And as you may note from my NLJ article above, depending upon the method used for control, there was little to stop the recipient from printing, screen-capturing or copying-and-pasting it (while the e-mail is still active) into another format that couldn't be so easily controlled. If printed, one has a hard copy that is completely independent of its digital counterpart. Screen captures allow one to store a picture of the e-mail in a common graphical format, such as a bitmap (.BMP) or JPEG (.JPG), that can't be recalled and can also be printed. The same goes for copying and pasting text into a separate document or e-mail message. And then there's low tech: If the recipient can read the e-mail, they can take a photo with a video or still camera. Given some of the tiny yet high resolution digital cameras that covertly fit into a pocket, one should consider this as another threat which has long been used in corporate espionage.

Unfortunately, I have yet to see one of these consumer or commercial services that didn't have some holes in it -- so be wary. As mentioned, there was some exception that enabled the recipient to retain some or all of the message beyond the control of its sender -- especially if they acted immediately while the e-mail message was still in an "enabled" and thus "readable" state. Naturally, these exceptions required some tech savvy on the part of the recipient or their hired gun. However, a security system that works best off a user's ignorance, while effective most of the time, is still flawed.

Coming back to the present: To be fair to BigString, I asked myself, how could BigString's service be different? Were they using encryption as well, or perhaps taking a different approach by hosting the source e-mail and then tricking/redirecting the recipients' e-mail programs via HTML, scripting, or other dynamic or active web content? So I visited BigString.com's site, and began reading through all their pages. All but one of them extolled the many virtues of the service without explaining how it worked under the hood. Note to marketing department: Seeing that much unsubstantiated hype generally makes one very skeptical. The more I read between the lines, the more I began to think that they must be providing some type of e-mail hosting service. By hosting it they control access to the source e-mail message and attachments. I figured that the recipients probably just received an e-mail containing a unique redirected link back to the original message, or something very similar. If an HTML-formatted e-mail was crafted properly, it would appear to the reader that the e-mail message was indeed sitting in their inbox, when in actuality it was being fetched over the web automatically by their HTML-ready e-mail program. All quite clever indeed.

Then, buried in the press releases, I finally found the one page (a New York Times reprint) that provided a limited description of how it works, which confirmed these musings. And once again, the old "print", "save as image", and "copy/paste" concerns were mentioned:

"BigString e-mail recipients can save the messages, but only as image files, and they cannot cut-and-paste from them. Mr. Myman said the company would release an optional feature next month that blocks the receiver's ability to print the messages.

As with any Web-based e-mail service, it is possible, albeit unlikely, that a hacker might tap into BigString servers and gain access to e-mail messages.

'Sure, you could crack the mother lode by getting at this one location," Mr. Clinton said. "But at least that's a location that's working on security.' "

Technically speaking, if one can save a text or HTML-formatted message as an image (via screen capturing built right into Windows, no less, or by one of many such programs available), then wouldn't one also have the ability to:

1) Preserve the e-mail long past its edit, recall, or expiration date,
2) Forward the saved image to others, beyond the control of the original sender,
3) Print the saved image to hard copy to preserve it completely outside the digital realm,
4) OCR the image to convert the image back into text,
5) Which then allows it to be copied and pasted into another document or format,
6) Which also allows it to be printed, and
7) Which also means that one need not even try to hack into BigString's servers.

Another observation, and admittedly this is based on some conjecture on my part to which I welcome additional clarification to be fair:

Per the NYT article, the e-mail is stored in HTML format. I have encountered web sites which have prohibited right-clicking, saving, printing, and the like. Generally this was done by inserting additional coding in the HTML page that prevented these actions by average web visitors -- who viewed the content in web browsers that properly executed these limitations. However, with a minimal amount of additional effort (say less than 30 minutes), it is sometimes possible to download this "protected" content into an HTML or text editor, and then either edit out the prohibiting code or instead copy and paste the desired content into another document window. Again, I'm not making the call on the propriety of doing so -- my point being that it is often, in fact, doable by someone knowledgeable, and is doable beyond the direct control of the author. Again, I have not seen BigString's HTML-formatted e-mail, and this is indeed guesswork on my part. Thus I welcome clarification from BigString since I did not see any whitepapers or other truly technical information on their site.

However, experience has taught me that reliance upon a false sense of security is a very dangerous thing, leading to dangerous assumptions, such as: The Titanic was unsinkable, or that a system is completely secure. No security system is foolproof, only "fool resistant" at best. Another point worth offering is that security is not a product nor a service. It is a process, and it is equally important to know where the strengths and weaknesses lie in that process. Notice that nowhere here have I stated to use or not to use any of these services. That was not my intent or point at all, but rather education and informed consent. With any type of digital rights management (DRM) system, it behooves the users to understand exactly what it can and can't do, and plan accordingly. Ask all the right questions and don't relent until you have sufficient answers. Quantify the upside gains and downside risks. And then just maybe, you'll have an intelligent means to conclude whether using such a system is feasible, justified, and even advisable. The rest is up to you.


3.18.04 Update: As I reflected on this post for a few days, I realized that I hadn't stated a key point:

While these e-mail services are not perfect, the 80/20 or the "good enough"' rule is applicable. Without these services, all e-mail one sends out could potentially come back to bite him/her and/or the organization. While these services would not prohibit all attempts by recipients to preserve e-mails, in the due course they could be fairly effective due to the relative technical ignorance of most recipients. If a company could reduce its e-mail risk by say, 80%, that could very well justify its adoption -- with a savvy decision maker recognizing that it's a practical tool with a few warts, not a panacea.

My main point here is that people could become overly reliant upon these services to the point where its users get too comfortable. Thus they could make some monumental mistakes that they wouldn't have done absent their reliance on this technology. Without this technology in place, a person may think twice about sending a particular e-mail if they know they can't unring the bell. If the person thinks that all e-mails are recallable or can be excised through automated expiration, they may become less likely to think about the consequences before clicking "Send".

For example, a key officer sends an inappropriate or incriminating e-mail to a cohort thinking that it will automatically disappear after X days to cover his/her tracks. Another would be senior management adopting the services thinking that it will completely eliminate their exposure in electronic discovery with respect to e-mails. As with any change in technology, management and user training should encompass not only the technlogical aspects but the real-life ramifications associated with it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Security is a process, not a product, and when people are involved in that process, they often become the weakest link.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Feature Articles
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (2)

March 10, 2004

Do You Want Additional LawTech Guru News Feeds?

To my many readers: Thank you for your continued patronage, and I thought I'd give something back. This is your chance to get what you want. For some time I've been considering adding an Atom news feed as well as a dedicated mobile device feed (for PDA's, etc.) which would streamline it a bit (less is definitely more when reading information on a PDA).

Adding an Atom feed to Movable Type 2.65 and above is rather easy. However, I haven't upgraded from MT 2.64 for the simple reason that it's been working beautifully ("If it ain't broke...). So I'd just need to upgrade MT first. Regarding the mobile feed, while this blog is already PDA-friendly, I've come across something else that may work better in this regard, but I haven't tested it yet. Basically, before investing the time for either project, I wanted to know if it's something that would add value, and that you would want and would actually use.

So please let me know by leaving a comment or contact me via . Also, if there's something else regarding this blog that you'd like to see offered, this is your chance. I can't promise that I'll be able to deliver on all requests, but I'm definitely open to suggestions. Thank you in advance for your time.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

Dave Winer's RFC for Merging RSS and Atom

This week, Dave Winer graciously made a constructive offer to the Atom camp to find a way to merge the RSS and Atom specifications for content syndication, along with assigning it to a more neutral and open standards group for management.

Given how the RSS vs. Atom debate has splintered and polarized the web community, I see this as a good first step. While Dave's offer leans toward working from RSS 2.0 as the base, he stated he is open to comments and counteroffers. Given the harsh comments I've seen posted both on this blog and elsewhere, I commend Dave for taking this step to help bridge the gap between the camps. Obviously there is much work ahead for them, but having a unified specification that adopts the best of both standards while maintaining backwards compatibility is an incredibly good idea in my book, if feasible. I've commented previously how much I greatly dislike dual or splintered standards, since the consumers always bear the brunt of it in the end.

[Many thanks to Tom Mighell of Inter Alia for the link.]

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 09, 2004

Update on RSS Readers for Palm OS-based PDAs

Back in September I mentioned the BlogPuck/Plucker combination for an offline RSS reader solution for Palm users. Then in October I came across Hand/RSS for Palm OS. Today, PalmInfocenter posted a summary of Palm RSS readers that includes these and a few more such as:

  • Ticker (an RSS news ticker)
  • JPluck X* (a Java-based solution which converts RSS feeds into the Plucker document format, for viewing in the open source Plucker reader), and
  • NewsMac 3 for Mac users (which borrows a page from these Plucker solutions to convert feeds into the iSilo document format).

    *Please note that JPluck X has replaced BlogPuck from the same developer.

It's been disappointing that given the wildfire adoption of RSS feeds all over the planet, there are still only a tiny handful of PDA RSS reader programs available. For my purposes, I prefer a solution which allows content updating via both a HotSync and direct Internet connection for the most flexibility. With cached content stored on the PDA, one can download the latest news headlines and blog summaries for reading when there may not be a Net connection available (e.g., in-flight or if your PDA simply lacks Internet connectivity).

AvantGo is still useful for viewing mainstream sites and as a PDA web browser. However, it's not an RSS reader, and their expensive upfront channel charges for site operators means it naturally excludes feeds from a large number of webmasters and bloggers who can't afford it or don't wish to republish their content into AvantGo's different format. These are some of the reasons why RSS has taken off so well -- cross-platform compatibility and it's already baked into popular blogging systems like Movable Type, TypePad, etc. No extra work required.

Of the solutions listed above, Hand/RSS appears to be the most elegant solution if you are accustomed to a PC-based news aggregator. Yes, several others are free. However, I often marvel how people using $500+ top-end PDAs often balk at a $15 solution if it truly is the most enabling and productive solution. Hand/RSS allows one to update RSS content via either a HotSync with a PC or through a direct Internet connection on your PDA if you have it (e.g., modem, cellular, Wi-Fi, etc.)

If you prefer the open source (read "free") route, then the Palm document reader conversion tools are worth a look -- especially if you already use Plucker (or iSilo for the Mac option above). However, this latter approach has some potential downsides. Take a good look to see if you are limited to updating RSS feeds during a HotSync, which requires a connection to a PC. Unless one also travels with a laptop, a HotSync-only option won't work well for longer trips as your handheld content will remain stagnant. Regardless of the Hand/RSS vs. open source choice, you'll also want to make sure it includes a feature for automatically expiring content. Otherwise, you'll need to waste unproductive time with manual content maintenance on your PDA. Hand/RSS nicely includes several choices for hiding or deleting content to give you even more control.

Lastly, if you are fortunate to have a PDA with a modem or wireless connectivity, another option is using a web-based news aggregator service to view updated content. One of the advantages is that you don't have to maintain separate news feed subscriptions between your PC-based aggregator and your handheld program. If you have multiple PCs, then a web-based aggregator makes even more sense. Since all your subscription information is maintained on the web site, you get the same feed subscriptions wherever you go, through whatever browser and Net connection is available.

However, there's a downside to web-based aggregators when viewed on PDAs. While some next-gen PDA web browsers finally support active content like javascript, others do not. So what may work beautifully on your PC's browser may be inaccessible or somewhat crippled on the PDA. Thus you'll definitely need to test your particular PDA web browser with the aggregator site well before leaving on that trip -- just to make sure they're compatible.

Another issue is the Great RSS vs. Atom syndication format debate (with additional discussion and observations). All of the above solutions should support RSS feeds, but Atom is relatively new. For example, JPluck X supports Atom feeds, but Atom support is nowhere to be found in Hand/RSS' online documentation or version history notes. Thus if you normally subscribe to an online source that only provides Atom feeds (e.g., Google's revamped Blogger offerings), this is yet another issue for consideration.

Overall, at least there's been some progress. A year ago, there were virtually no "easy" RSS solutions for PDAs short of hacking together your own -- which required a much higher level of tech savvy. However, compared to the glut of Palm program offerings in other categories, and the wide variety of news aggregator programs for PCs, this is still a very small range of solutions for avid Palm users, sad to say. The good news is that we have several options now.

I'd love to hear from fellow PDA users who've taken the plunge and access RSS feeds from their handhelds: What are you using, and why? How has it met your particular needs? All constructive comments welcomed.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 08, 2004

How to Lose Your Law License for Only $40

Per the Fulton County Daily Report today: A Georgia attorney with an otherwise clean discipline record just lost his law license by aggressively billing clients for his time spent defending himself from grievances they filed against him with the State Bar of Georgia's discipline authorities.

In my opinion, this case should be on the final exam for every new law grad. For purposes of this question, present the article and ask how many mistakes the attorney made in both judgment and against existing ethical rules and laws.

Accordingly, if this incident can be used to educate lawyers by example, then at least some good has come of it (hence the reason for this post).

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 06, 2004

Cheap In-Flight Calls with Verizon

From Engadget: "For ten bucks a month, Verizon Wireless will let you forward calls from your cellphone directly to your seat while flying, as long as youíre traveling on an airline that uses Verizonís Airfone service, that is. Thereís also a cost per minute of 10 cents, but compared to what it normally costs to make a phone call while aloft ($3.99 for set up, plus $3.99 a minute), this is a huge bargain."

For more details, see Verizon Wireless' press release. If you frequently take long flights and need to stay in contact while regular cell phones are useless, this new service brings in-flight call prices back down to earth. Per the press release, "Airfoneģ Voice Services are available on Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways and Midwest Airlines."

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 04, 2004

But Can I Buy a Vowel?

This is probably one of the more politically-oriented posts I've made since the inception of the LawTech Guru blog, but I feel strongly about it and this is my soapbox. Wired News has a report on the proposed "Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act ".

"Ostensibly, the Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act (HR3261) makes it a crime for anyone to copy and redistribute a substantial portion of data collected by commercial database companies and list publishers. But critics say the bill would give the companies ownership of facts -- stock quotes, historical health data, sports scores and voter lists. The bill would restrict the kinds of free exchange and shared resources that are essential to an informed citizenry, opponents say."

How much is a "substantial portion"? How will this affect access to otherwise publicly available information?

Not surprisingly, "[t]he bill's biggest backers are the Software and Information Industry Association; Reed Elsevier, which owns the LexisNexis database; and Westlaw, the biggest publisher of legal databases."

Per the article, "...[c]ritics say that letting companies own facts would take information out of the public domain and make it accessible only to those who could afford it. They also say that copyright laws and usage agreements already protect databases."

Don't get me wrong, as database collators and publishers should have reasonable protections. After all, many have invested millions or more to build up their database and service offerings. However, the underlying facts need to be FREE. Here's a potentially scary consequence of this bill:

"But Joe Rubin, executive director of technology and e-commerce for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says the bill's threshold for proving 'commercial harm' is very low.

He cited the example of a financial planner who gathers information from several sources, like Securities and Exchange Commission filings, public documents and the Dun & Bradstreet business database.

'If he assimilated the information and put it into a report for his client, under this bill that activity would be illegal and would subject him to lawsuits from every company whose website he accessed,' Rubin said."

I can think of many researchers and research projects in many contexts that could fun afoul of this logic, and not just in the legal market. Some additional comments are found at John Battelle's Searchblog. If accurate, it certainly sounds like there is much reason for concern. It just goes to show how "disruptive" search engines, news aggregators, and the Internet as a whole has been to the status quo in leveling the playing field. The established giants are probably scared. Hey, if you can't beat 'em under the free market, then change all the rules?

I'm not a copyright lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. Instead I'm asserting my right to free speech to discuss and debate the consequences of this proposed legislation: To me it just doesn't pass the smell test. If they're having trouble competing with their already monstrous resources, then just maybe there is a better mousetrap out there, and they need to adapt to survive. Perhaps that's why people like Batelle are saying big businesses should try changing their business models before artificially manipulating laws to retain a stranglehold.

This should sound familiar. Remember the DMCA? On the face of it, HR3261 quacks like a duck regarding the comparisons to the ill-considered DMCA, and look where that got us: amongst others, grandparents and housing project minor children getting sued. One of the problems is the net was cast too wide, and too many "unintended consequences" were the result -- and I'm far from the first one to arrive at that opinion. (For example, one can make an archival backup of normal non-copyprotected audio CDs, but not of CSS-protected DVDs for the same personal purpose. Just ask 321 Studios about that one.)

Vastly improved search tools and news aggregators have finally delivered "equal access" to information, which was one of the founding principles of the Internet. I'm not exactly thrilled that big business once again wants to put their finger in the dyke and hold us back. Changing laws to artificially protect archaic business methods isn't progress. Dinosaurs shouldn't try to change the environment backward -- instead they need to adapt to the new one if they truly wish to survive in the long haul.

Topic(s):   Other Musings
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 03, 2004

Beware the Spy Phone

A company named Endoacustica claims they can modify Nokia and Siemens cell phones to reprogram them as spy phones. The site displays the Nokia 8310 relabeled as the "SPY-PH-NOKIA 8310". This phone can be used with any sim card in any country.

They claim the cell phone operates as usual for incoming and outgoing calls. That is, until someone calls it using a preprogrammed number. Then it answers automatically without ringing or lighting up, and the display appears to remain in ordinary standby. This enables the caller to listen to the cell phone's surrounding sounds and conversations, rather like a baby monitor.

Bottom line: Don't accept cell phones as gifts or loaners. I suppose it depends upon how the modification is done, but wouldn't the eavesdropper's airtime show up on the spyphone's monthly provider bill?

[Link courtesy of Gizmodo.]

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (4)

March 02, 2004

TECHSHOW Edition of Law Practice Today Released

One of my favorite online reads is Law Practice Today, published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section. This month is the Technology issue and it features a number of highlights from the upcoming ABA TECHSHOW held later this month in Chicago. Among the many useful articles, there are several on curbing spam, emerging tech trends for lawyers, and of course Dennis Kennedy's phenomenal list of legal technology-related web sites and blogs. Darryl Cross' article on Business Development is also a must-read. It would be difficult to read these without picking up at least a dozen great tips.

And that's just from the articles. If you truly want to energize your practice, I encourage you to attend TECHSHOW and get it straight from the source. Talk about ROI. If you're still undecided, then the LPT Roundtable: A Preview of ABA TECHSHOW® 2004 should give you a good idea of what's happening this year.

Topic(s):   Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 01, 2004

Anti-Spyware Legislation Introduced

From the press release:

"U.S. Senators Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), today introduced legislation to prohibit spyware, adware, and other invasive software from being secretly installed on Americansí computers. For the first time, the SPYBLOCK (Software Principles Yielding Better Levels of Consumer Knowledge) Act would prohibit installing software on somebody else's computer without notice and consent, and requires reasonable "uninstall" procedures for all downloadable software. Spyware, adware and other hidden programs often secretly piggyback on downloaded Internet software without the userís knowledge, transmitting information about computer usage and generating pop-up advertisements. Frequently such software is designed to be virtually impossible to uninstall."
Amen to that. While I heartily applaud their efforts, I also have similiar concerns regarding this legislation that I had for the CAN-SPAM Act, which I enumerated here and here. It may provide relief against U.S.-based malware developers, but what about internationally-hosted software? At least some recourse against American companies may be better than none. For that I applaud the senators for trying to do something about it and protect the end users from some of the more insidious practices.

Lest my bias be misunderstood, I'm acknowledging that some adware/spyware may be beneficial. For example, someone who can't afford an expensive commercial program may find their needs met by an adware-supported free download. As long as there's informed consent, and the adware is easily and fully removable when the person no longer wants to use the ad-sponsored software, then that's the person's free choice and they shouldn't complain. As long as they know about it, then people are free to vote with their mice, and program authors should get paid for their work if it's on the up an up. In other words, there's some quid pro quo by consent. I'm really referring to the malware that surreptitiously installs itself as a parasite accompanied with other desired software or under other false pretenses.

[Thanks to beSpacific for the link.]

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (1)

Nifty Online Spyware and Adware Encyclopedia

If spyware and adware has crept into your system, most people will usually download Ad-aware or Spybot Search & Destroy, scan their system, and let it remove the offending software.

Sometimes, though, such a removal might fail, or you might want to know more about what the malware was designed to do on your PC prior to removing it. After all, some free programs will fail to operate if the underlying spyware/adware is removed.

In the "Why didn't I think of that?" category, that's where the free Bazooka Spyware and Adware Encyclopedia comes in handy. It lists several hundred of the more popular "vermin" (as I like to call malware), along with specific details regarding its classification, function, installed files, vendor web site and privacy policy, uninstall procedure, and perhaps most importantly, the manual removal steps if all else fails. The latter is also useful if you just want to verify that your system is finally rid of all traces. It's reminiscent of some antivirus vendors' virus databases, but is specific to spyware and adware, which are not technically viruses.

The encyclopedia is not all that's available. The same site also offers the freeware Bazooka Adware and Spyware Scanner. I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds like it's a scanner only, i.e., that it will scan your system and alert you if it detects installed spyware and adware. I didn't see any information that it will actually remove the vermin for you. If I'm correct, that's where the online encyclopedia (and other malware removers such as Ad-aware and Spybot) should be used.

While I run a tight ship on my own PC to keep it meticulously malware-free, I've helped others by removing offending software -- usually piggybacked in downloaded program installers. As I mentioned, it's important to know which changes have been made to the system and what the malware does prior to removing it. What's nice about this site is that the information is all in one place for many common malware programs. And for that I give the Bazooka Spyware and Adware Encyclopedia a big thumbs up!

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)